The labor union representing thousands of state employees has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board accusing Gov. Janet Mills’ administration of failing to comply with requests for information about workers during the pandemic.

An administration spokeswoman on Tuesday called the move “surprising and disappointing.”

Maine Service Employees Union/Service Employees International Union Local 1989 President Dean Staffieri said the complaint was filed Tuesday. He would not provide a copy of the complaint, citing advice from legal counsel.

But Staffieri said the union has been trying to get information about state employees who have been exposed to COVID-19 at their worksites and about how many employees across different state agencies are being asked to work in an office rather than at home.

“We really don’t want to be at a place where we’re bringing prohibited practice complaints,” he said in an interview. “Over the last six months, we’ve been focused on trying to get data and information from the state. While some communication has improved, we’re still struggling to get what we need.”

Kelsey Goldsmith, spokeswoman for Maine’s Department of Administrative & Financial Services, said the administration has worked hard to protect employees during the pandemic.


“The Mills administration has shifted the vast majority of its workforce to remote work, offered additional resources to support employees’ mental and physical health, and provided additional administrative flexibility to employees as we all confront new and difficult pandemic-driven challenges,” Goldsmith said in a statement.

“The department has maintained open lines of communications with MSEA, as it has with state employees; met virtually with them multiple times; and strived to be as responsive and helpful as possible. The department had considered MSEA a partner in these efforts, which is why this complaint is both surprising and disappointing.”

Goldsmith said the state believed recent conversations were productive and reflected a shared goal of keeping employees safe “while delivering a high-standard of service that Maine people deserve from their government.”

“We will continue to work with MSEA and our other labor partners to protect employees and provide information as best we can,” she said.

Early on in the pandemic, the state workers’ union expressed concerns that the Department of Health and Human Services was not doing enough to protect workers from COVID-19 exposure. Those concerns came as positive cases forced the temporary closure of some regional offices. Tom Feeley, an attorney for the union, said at the time that DHHS was only notifying co-workers of a potential exposure when a colleague tested positive for the illness and not when they went out on sick leave.

Another issue that emerged early on was whether some state employees would be eligible for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act. Many, including child protective caseworkers, employees at the state’s two psychiatric hospitals and many Department of Corrections employees, found they were exempt, even during the pandemic, something the union fought to remedy.

Staffieri said he expects the state might work harder to provide the information the union has been requesting now that a formal complaint has been filed.

“The state has done some positive things. I think they are working to make things better,” he said. “This is one thing they haven’t really moved on.”

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